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SKEPTOID BLOG:

LENR: A bright future? Part 1

by Mike Weaver

February 26, 2013

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Donate Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR) is the current label used for the troubled concept of cold fusion. Cold fusion was brought into the public conciousness by two scientists, Pons and Fleischmann, who announced directly to the public that they had a breakthrough new energy source in cold fusion. Initial excitement quickly faded as issues were found in their work, their methods of publication, and, ultimately, in that their work could not be replicated; a fatal problem in science. LENR, however, is enjoying a bit of a renaissance in science, with NASA researchers weighing in. Let's take a look at what they are saying after the break.

It's not really possible to have an effective conversation about LENR without addressing Andrea Rossi and the e-cat device. [1] I don't know if Rossi has developed a legitimate LENR device or not. In fact, my biggest complaint with Rossi is that it isn't possible to know. He's playing his cards so close to the vest that we cannot tell if he has something legitimate or if it's a scam. I'm not saying that Rossi's device is a legitimate device or a scam. I am saying that Rossi makes it difficult to distinguish him from a scam artist. I look forward to seeing more information from him and his team in the future so we can settle the debate. I won't speak more of him and his work here, at least not yet.

What is LENR, really? Well, depending on who you talk to, it's a nuclear process (like fission or fusion) which produces an excess of energy at relatively low energy states (table-top conditions). A popular theory of function is the Widom-Larsen Theory[2][3] which explains the energy output through a sequence of nuclear reactions mostly centered around the weak nuclear force (fision and classical hot fusion produce energy primarily out of the strong nuclear force). This theory allows for nuclear energy production (and element transmutation) without ionizing radiation or exotic conditions.

I keep my ear to the ground for LENR news. I must confess that it isn't for "debunking" reasons, however. You see, I'm a "wannabe" believer. I want this stuff to be true. I want my sci-fi future with faster than light travel, teleportation, artificial intelligence (more Data, less Skynet, thanks), and plentiful, "green" energy. LENR seems like a good candidate, I want it to be true and legitimate, but, alas, I also require evidence to accept it. A solid scientific theory which supports LENR and provides a framework in which it can exist without violating existing, well-understood physics is a serious plus as well.

Some new items drifted across my vision recently, invoking the name of NASA. News article, you have my attention. Here are some of the news articles and the NASA paper which sparked them:
The paper by Bushnell (the last link above) is especially interesting. I draw your attention to his thoughts.
Therefore, the LENR situation and outlook is the following:
  • Something real is happening

  • The weak interaction theories suggest what the physics might be.

  • There are efforts ongoing to explore the validity of the theories.

  • There are continuing Edisonian efforts to produce "devices" mainly for heat or in some cases transmutations.

  • There are efforts to "certify" such devices.

  • NASA LaRC has begun LENR design studies guided by the Weak Interaction Theory.

I would love to see some of Mr. Bushnell's citations, to be honest. In the context of "Edisonian" efforts (inventors trying to refine devices on their own, like Edison did with his inventions), he mentions laboratories exploding and windows melting seemingly due to the energy output of their prototype LENR devices. The best Google can give me is Mr. Bushnell's own article on this topic. Please share any references y'all have in the comments, please.

Another work from NASA, which serves as a source for these myriad articles is by a Mr. Joseph Zawodny. He has a video on LENR hosted by NASA in which he speculates about home energy production via LENR reactors. You can view the video here.

Interestingly, however, Mr. Zawodny speaks about LENR and how people are interpreting his work on his blog, saying:
There have been many attempts to twist the release of this video into NASA's support for LENR or as proof that Rossi's e-cat really works. Many extraordinary claims have been made in 2010. In my scientific opinion, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I find a distinct absence of the latter. So let me be very clear here. While I personally find sufficient demonstration that LENR effects warrant further investigation, I remain skeptical. Furthermore, I am unaware of any clear and convincing demonstrations of any viable commercial device producing useful amounts of net energy.
In essence, he thinks that there may be an effect here which can be exploited for energy production and it is worth exploring. He is not saying, however, that LENR is proven and ready for prime time. Works for me, and agrees with my own feelings on the matter.

I'm going to explore LENR more fully in future articles. I find the Weak Interaction theory fascinating and will dig much more deeply into it. Please comment with any issues or concerns and I'll address them in the future articles. While I am not yet convinced of the legitimacy of LENR, I'm optimistic that, maybe, just maybe there is something here we can use. Stay tuned as I see just how deep the rabbit hole goes.

[1] Some reading: Official ECAT web site; Steven Novella's take on it.

[2] http://newenergytimes.com/v2/sr/WL/WLTheory.shtml

[3] http://discovermagazine.com/2012/nov/27-big-idea-bring-back-the-cold-fusion-dream

 

by Mike Weaver

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